Monday, February 4, 2008

Venue in Snipes Case

Several posts have focused on the Wesley Snipes case, the trial and the verdict (see here, here, and here).  Actor Snipes was convicted on 3 misdemeanor tax counts, but acquitted on all other charged conduct including a count charging conspiracy. As previously discussed, the conspiracy count may have had a venue basis when charged, as venue can be found in either the place of the agreement or where any of the acts occurred.  But the tax counts have been argued as improper from the initial days.

Can the two be separated?  One case, United States v. Ebersole, 411 F.3d 517 (4th Cir. 2005) does a good job of noting an important policy argument in this area  of law -

"The Supreme Court has cautioned that the question of venue in a criminal case is more than a matter 'of formal legal procedure'; rather, it raises 'deep issues of public policy in the light of which legislation must be construed.' United States v. Johnson, 323 U.S. 273, 276 (1944). The Court also has observed that the venue provisions of the Constitution are meant to act as safeguards, protecting the defendant from bias, disadvantage, and inconvenience in the adjudication of the charges against him. Travis v. United States, 364 U.S. 631, 634 (1961) (citing U.S. Const. Art. III, ยง 2 (pertaining to venue)); U.S. Const. amend. VI (pertaining to jury trials)."

Was Snipes biased and disadvantaged here?  Does the fact that the jury venire that he as selecting jurors was all-white make a difference?

For comments from Paul Caron's Tax Prof Blog, see here.


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I attended the entire Snipes trial and blogged my observations while I was there:

There were several key pieces of evidence introduced that showed that Snipes' house in Windermere Florida (Middle District of Florida) was his place of residence.

* Florida driver's license, issued in 1978, last renewed in 2004, and still active

* Florida Homestead Exemption application

* Multiple movie contracts with the studios, where the studio was required to pay all travel expenses from his Windermere home to the set location

* Snipes' signed civil complaint against New Line Cinema in federal court where he claimed his place of residence was Windermere, Florida

* Letters to the IRS, asking them to move his case to the Florida district offices

* Signed Power of Attorney forms sent to the IRS, indicating the Windermere address as his residence

No one in the government contested that Snipes also had homes in New York (until 2001), New Jersey (after 2001), and Los Angeles. What they have been saying is that he represented to them and others, often under penalty of perjury, that the Windermere, Florida home was his permanent place of residence.

Another thought. If Snipes is claiming that he never lived in Florida during the years in question, he may be talking himself into some trouble at the state income tax level, since NY, NJ, and CA all have such taxes while Florida does not. He also may come to regret that Florida Homestead Exemption claim.

JJ MacNab
Bethesda, MD

Posted by: JJ MacNab | Feb 6, 2008 8:29:25 AM

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